An overseas-based Vincentian who is involved in the tourism industry is questioning the absence of Vincentian stakeholders at “the Caribbean’s leading travel conference” held in the Bahamas last week.
The conference — the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA) Caribbean Travel Marketplace — was held Feb. 1-2.
Fifteen new buyers from 12 countries participated in the event, where buyers were matched with Caribbean suppliers (i.e. hotels, tour companies and tourism departments) during the two-day programme featuring thousands of appointments.
But even as St. Vincent and the Grenadines prepares to open the long-delayed Argyle International Airport on Feb. 14, there was no representative from the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Hotel Association or the Tourism Authority — which is responsible for promoting St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a destination.
“…even if the country did not attend last year or two years ago, just the mere fact that they are in a different league now where there is supposed to be an international airport, was enough justification for them to attend this particular event,” said the stakeholder, who contacted iWitness News anonymously.
The stakeholder told iWitness News that they decided to contact us about the situation after realising that there was no Vincentian representation at the event, which includes major players in the travel industry, such as Expedia.
Expedia is an American travel company that owns and operates several international global online travel brands including the eponymous Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, trivago, Egencia (formerly Expedia Corporate Travel), Venere.com, Expedia Local Expert, Classic Vacations, Expedia Cruise Ship Centers, Travelocity, Orbitz and HomeAway.
“I think that St. Vincent has so much to offer, but the people in charge need to do a better job of marketing the destination,” the source told iWitness News.
iWitness News contacted the Tourism Authority on Wednesday and an official there confirmed that the state-owned agency did not send any representatives to the event in the Bahamas.
“We do not have a representative at the Tourism Authority at that event. It is not an event that we usually attend, but the Hotel and Tourism Association sometimes has reps there. But I really cannot speak for them. I am not sure if anyone went,” the Tourism Authority told iWitness News.
President of the SVG Hotel and Tourism Authority, Fitzroy Glasgow, also confirmed that none of the members of his group attended the event, but said it is a useful opportunity to promote the Vincentian tourism sector.
“In the past, when we were in a better financial position, the association would send an executive member to the show to accompany other members. So we would organise the booth to help promote the individual members who decided to go.”
Glasgow said that while his association does things to promote its members, promoting St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the mandate of the Tourism Authority.
“So, if it is a destination position, then we are not the ones responsible or mandated to do that. We are mandated to advocate on behalf of our membership.”
Therefore, what the association does in organising any type of trade show is to first see its membership’s intentions, adding that a particular member may choose not to attend if they do not think that it would be financially practical to do so.
“They may have the money but they may not think it makes sense to go there as an individual member because it is not going to direct traffic enough to warrant the expense,” Glasgow explained.
He used the example of a magazine, saying that members might decide not to advertise in a magazine, if they feel it could not reach potential clients.
“But, for a destination, then it’s different. You want to meet as many possible buyers to the destination as possible. So, it’s two different cups of tea,” he said, even as he reiterated that the Tourism Authority is responsible for advertising the destination.
Glasgow said he believes the event was one that the Tourism Authority should have attended.
“I believe, in general, we should have as much exposure as possible where there is enough audience to do so.
“When you are doing promotions, you don’t always have a captured audience. So, wherever there is a captured audience, it would make sense to do that. But I am not the policy writer for those entities,” he said.
He said his association always try to have a presence at these types of trade shows, “but we are in a re-organising stage where are trying to strengthen back the organisation and we cannot overreach or overstretch to put us back. We are still in a growth phase”.
Glasgow told iWitness News that it is his argument that outside of what his organisation can do within the confines of its resources, it would have been a good idea for the Tourism Authority to attend the event.
“I am under that assumption that wherever there is a captured audience for any destination, whether St. Vincent or whomever, it would be sensible for us to [have] some kind of presence.
“Remember this: one individual stakeholder, two or three stakeholders, is not in a position to advertise the destination. The destination gets advertised and then when people decide to come to your destination, it is the stakeholders’ responsibility to get their share of the people that are coming to the country.”
The stakeholder who contacted iWitness News wondered if the Tourism Authority was so busy preparing for the Feb. 14 opening of Argyle International Airport that they did not have any time to actually promote St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a tourism destination.
“If the Hotel Association is saying that the Tourism Authority should attend, so everyone is preparing for Feb. 14, but what next? What’s beyond that? I think it was quite ridiculous that they weren’t represented in a forum of this magnitude,” the stakeholder said.
The industry insider asked iWitness News to call the situation to the attention of the Vincentian public.
“Stimulate the discussion in the country because it needs to be a talking point and people need to be held accountable, because, at the end of the day, I guess that’s taxpayers’ money and someone needs to be held accountable for that…
“Being in the industry, and when I travel and what I see is St. Vincent is not represented at these events,” he said, adding that it is often the case that there is no Vincentian representation from the Tourism Authority at these travel conferences.